Teaching the skills of swimming involves implementation of a common teaching language and employment of demonstration, explanation, repetition and feedback. Coaches need a big “toolbox” of ideas for teaching and each coach must find his/her own methods to best teach, organize and communicate with the swimmers.
It is crucial that the coach use age and skill appropriate vocabulary and concepts. Very young swimmers do not need long explanations of the mechanics behind the skills. Older swimmers may be more receptive to understanding the reasons why they need to make technical adjustments. Progressively advanced explanation compliments progressive skill development. Teach one skill at a time and allow swimmers to master the skill before adding additional elements.
A common teaching language of drills and key words should be employed across all levels. Developing and implementing the common teaching language is a responsibility of the head coach. Teach vocabulary, teach the initial core concepts and teach the basics. Use the same vocabulary for swimmers of all ages and stages of development. Swimmers in one group should use the same language as the swimmers in the next group. This eliminates the confusion of changing from one group to another; the swimmer does not have to learn a whole new language. Use the same terms whether instructing a novice or national swimmer.
Showing the swimmers how to do something is vitally important. Many young people are visual learners and seeing a demonstration or picture of what to do is their best method of learning.
- Use a live demonstration when possible.
- Use an older athlete or more accomplished athlete on your team.
- Demonstration by the coach, but only if the coach does the skill well.
- Use one of the swimmers in the group who has already mastered the skill
- Use videotape or DVD
- Purchase video tapes or DVDs from ASCA or USA Swimming
- DVDs can be shown on a laptop computer or TV on the pool deck
- Homemade videos of accomplished swimmers
- Use still photos
- Pictures from magazines such as Swimming World or Splash Magazine
- Photos compiled into a scrapbook
No matter what methods are used for demonstration, try to emphasize the correct way of accomplishing the skill. Show “what to do” rather than “what not to do.”
People need word pictures to give them something to plant in their minds to replay when they need to remind themselves.
- Keep instruction short and to the point.
- Be consistent in your instructions and the vocabulary used.
- Use appropriate language for the audience.
- Similes and metaphors may be useful. (“Put your pinky fingers in at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock.”)
Give athletes key words (example: “fingers down, elbow up”) or questions and answers to remember for each activity. Repeat the questions and answers while teaching the skill and be consistent in always using the same key words.
Example: Coach says: “Your head is…”
Swimmers respond, in unison: “…in line with the spine.”